Among the Poetic books, also known as the Wisdom Literature, in the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs occupies a special place. The Hebrew word for the English word ‘Proverb’ is ‘Mashal’. The word Proverb comes from the Latin ‘Proverbium’. This book contains words of wisdom, knowledge that comes from God. There can be other words to refer to wisdom, such as, axiom, adage, maxims, etc. Wisdom is ‘chokma’ (pronounced as ‘hokma’) in Hebrew. The words of wisdom are short sayings based on long experience of people. The book of Proverbs contains wise sayings that are inspired by God, who is the source of wisdom. They are not just intellectual knowledge of mere information about things acquired by people. They give people wisdom for skill to live well and meaningful life. They are all for practical life. True wisdom always begins with God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1: 7).
By the phrase ‘fear of the LORD’ or God in the Bible does not mean the fear that we normally have about our enemies of any sort. But it means reverence or respect for God (Hebrew ‘Yirat Yahweh’). This refers to reverential awe on the part of human person for the almighty, all-sovereign creator God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all that. We fear God not because he will behave with us as our enemies or any wild creature does or may do to us. But we fear him because of our deep trust and loving respect for him for all his sublime attributes. Our reverential awe produces loving submission to God. The phrase (Fear of the LORD) is used in this book 18 times, and in the whole Bible 150 times. In this book there is to be found a striking contrast between people who does not believe in the existence in God and those who believe and trust in God. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1). The wise acknowledges the existence of God and trusts in him. Wisdom guides people to become expert in godly living. It makes one to stand upright in integrity and honesty in all situations.
Wisdom is personified as a ‘father’ giving good advice and counsel to a son as it were. Wisdom imparts us the right mind-set and world view for fruitful and happy life and living in relation to the rest of the creation. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). It keeps one from evil. “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance’ evil behavior and perverse speech” (8:13); and “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death” (14:27).
Wisdom gives motivation to live active life. Proverb says: “Go to the ant, you slugged. It has no commander, no overseer nor a ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (6:6), and read also “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. The sluggard buried his hand in the dishes; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.” We can find wisdom from many such verses as these: 19: 24, 20:4, 22:13, 26:14, etc. Proverbs warns us about the use of our mouths, lips, tongues: 6:16, 25:11. “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood , a heart that devised wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (6:16-17). Lips, tongues, mouth, eyes and words are referred to 150 times in this book. We abuse them often and create problems in our lives. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (18:21). The good use of our tongues is of vital importance for peace in the family and in society. “Reckless words spears lie a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (12:18). Similar teaching is available at scriptures like, 12: 25, 16: 24, and 28. We can easily discourage other people by the improper use of words. We just listen to what is said by Apostle James in his epistle “. . . The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person; set the whole course of his life on fire, and it itself is set on fire by hell. . . With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we course men, who have been made in God’s likeness . . .” James 3: 1-12). Use of proper words and speaking tenderly can encourage people. They can be likened to nectar of life.
The book of Proverbs has wealth of teaching and wisdom regarding every aspect of practical life for us humans for any society or community to be enriched and blessed from. It has teachings on life and death, riches and poverty, about good and bad, evil desires and noble ideals, honest praise and flattery, love and lust, chastity and adultery etc. Any willing person can know this from reading it. It is not for Jewish or Christians only.
Preachers or wise people were divinely inspired to say what they said in the Holy Bible. Iron sharpens iron. So they encourage and enlighten us for a better life. They exhort us not for riches and worldly gains and luxuries, but sincere love and happiness and blessed life in this world. We are to practice the wisdom that we can glean from them. It is not just hearing what the wise people have said or say, but it in using them in our practical life in relation to God and to others that can make the desired difference. God honours them who honour him and his holy and life-giving Word.